The first book was a blast, and easy to write—well, when it comes to writing, "easy" is definitely relative—so the second would be a piece of cake, right?
Not so much.
I struggled my way through the month, managed to dribble over the "finish" line with something like 50,008 words on the 30th—and promptly dropped the attempt, only two-thirds through the story. I was exhausted, and I hated every word I'd written. It was a disaster, and for perhaps six months I left it to fester, alone and unloved. When I finally decided to print out what I'd done so far and start the task of finishing it and whipping it into shape, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was actually a lot better than I thought it was. I'd find myself giggling at something, then thinking to myself, who wrote this?
Feeling a little better about what I had, I dove back in and finished it off—and, in a huge learning opportunity, rushed to print with a manuscript that was dotted with errors; nothing major, but plenty enough for me to feel unhappy with myself. (That was also the year of the Great Lulu SNAFU; about 16 of the 50-odd books I'd ordered had their pages out of order! Of course, they replaced them for me and I haven't seen it happen since, but at the time it was all a little disheartening.)
Lesson learned, I fixed up my manuscript. As I was in the process of doing that, Lulu upgraded their paper quality—necessitating a change to all my carefully prepared cover art (thicker spine, you see!) With my new (hopefully) error-free manuscript, I ordered myself a new copy of each book. I still feel bad about all the copies of book 2 that are in circulation that contain errors—but when I asked my readers, it seemed I was the only person noticing most of the errors anyway!
If book 2 had been difficult, book 3 turned into a real struggle. It didn't help that we were extremely busy at work that year—and by the end of November, drowning in work commitments, short on time and short on inspiration, I finally gave up on the goal of hitting 50,000, some 8000 words short. At the time it was easy to blame my failure on how insanely busy we were, but in hindsight, one of the biggest problems was, I just didn't know how to get from "A" to "B".
I had a very clear picture in my head of how the epilogue had to look—that was the one thing that never changed—and I knew how the story had to start, but the path joining the two was hazy at best. As November drew to a close, I started skipping many of the intermediate scenes to focus on writing the scenes I was sure had to be in there.
The end result was a jumbled mess, patchwork and woefully incomplete—although, as I was to discover later, much of what I'd actually written was, again, pretty good. Over the course of the next year, I probed at it a few times, but never seemed to make much progress. By then, I was firmly convinced that "NaNo November" was the only time I could write effectively.
When the following November rolled around, thoroughly disillusioned about my ability to write an actual trilogy—and convinced that my failure to finish book 3 during the free-for-all of NaNoWriMo was because the attempt to hit specific targets in my plot was too constricting for that format—I decided to make a clean break of it, and write something new.
This was to be my great zombie novel.
For quite some time now, my group of friends—who got themselves cameoed as "Team Daffodil" in the Array Wars novels—and I had been playing Half Life Deathmatch, mostly in a bunch of levels I'd built (and was building) myself. Based on a comment someone had made, I had this concept of how some loser gamer with no life would become the standout hero of the zombie apocalypse. Very early on in the writing, I decided that the track listing of a certain rock album would make an ideal chapter listing—and each chapter would be introduced by a stanza from the song in question.
These chapters detailed the rise of the zombie hordes—the origin I had in mind is something I don't think has been done before—and were written in third person (mostly following the adventures of one young nurse who I created as zombie-fodder, but who just refused to give up and die!) They were interspersed with first-person interludes following the descent into seething rage at his dull existence of the main character who was, once again, basically me. (But, y'know, not me. The person I would have become if I hadn't had that core group of friends to keep me sane.)
I did manage to write 50,006 words during November—some of them rather good—but the novel itself suffers from some rather huge flaws. Of all the things I've written, it is perhaps the least likely to see the light of day; even in the few months between deciding to write the Great Zombie Novel and actually getting started, a couple of other books in the genre were starting to hit the shelves—and now there seems to be a glut of them. The last few years have seen the rise of the zombie novel hordes!
Shame! I had some great ideas for the cover art!
In 2009 I took another shot at finishing book 3. By the end of the month I had something like 85,000 words written for it—but I was still in much the same position: I didn't know how to piece it all together, how to make it work. One of my biggest problems was how to bring the various groups together. Given my setup—given the position I'd left myself in at the end of book 2, and all of the ideas I desperately wanted to tackle in book 3—I just couldn't make it work.
That was to be my last attempt (so far) at NaNoWriMo. It was gradually dawning on me that, despite my success in 2005 (and I will always be grateful to the NaNoWriMo team for having gotten me started) perhaps the approach was not one that really worked for me. I considered signing up again in 2010, but never quite managed to summon the enthusiasm, and the opportunity came and went.